Six Things Your Volunteers Can Do In Times of Disaster
When disaster strikes, the most important thing for organizations to do is figure out their role in terms of the relief efforts, says Diana Rothe-Smith, director of disaster initiatives for the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center National Network. As director of disaster initiatives for the organization, Rothe-Smith is responsible for the management of what she calls “spontaneous volunteers,” i.e., those people watching the news who are compelled to do something to help and often simply get in their cars and drive to the disaster area.
“What we try to do is develop plans, procedures and policies to kind of get between that volunteer and the disaster site so that we can effectively place them in proper volunteer opportunities,” Rothe-Smith says.
Every organization, whether involved in direct service or not, has a role to play. Food pantries and shelters have an intrinsic role in disaster relief, but even environmental organizations that traditionally do more advocacy work have volunteers that can do things such as debris removal, etc.
Rothe-Smith advises contacting the local volunteer centers for advice on what your organization’s role can be in times of disaster. She also recommends joining the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) or your affiliated state VOAD, which coordinates planning efforts by bringing organizations together before disasters strike. Work with these groups to figure out what already is in place and where your organization can fit in.
Whether or not your organization has a presence “on the ground” at times of disaster, there are a number of ways your volunteers can help — other than showing up at the scene. Recommend that they take actions such as:
1) Connecting to their local volunteer center and registering their skills/interests there.
2) Getting trained on disaster response through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
3) Getting first aid and CPR training.
4) Giving blood.
5) Volunteering locally. “You don’t have to go down to the disaster site to have an impact on the disaster community, and being able to volunteer locally is very important. It also builds the capacity of the nonprofits within your own local community to respond to a local disaster if that were to happen,” Rothe-Smith says.
6) Donating money. Rothe-Smith says financial contributions are always the preferred gift rather than supplies because “then the folks down at the disaster scene don’t have to figure out ways to transport, store, manage and distribute the items that are received.”
Diana Rothe-Smith can be reached via www.pointsoflight.org